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Drinking and Driving: Field Sobriety Tests, Breathalyzers, and Alternative Sentencing Programs

Oct 10, 2010 | Criminal Law, DUI/DWI, Traffic Law

As a “Master of the Bench” member of Montgomery County’s Inns of Court, I attended a presentation on “Drinking and Driving” last night. The speakers included a Montgomery County police officer who trains other officers in how to test a driver to see if he/she is under the influence of alcohol; two judges, and the State’s Attorney for Montgomery County. All of the speakers agreed that drivers should not assume that “just having two drinks” is safe because it really is the size of the drinks that matters most. Also during the presentation, the police officer showed by demonstrating on some of us attending the presentation that even individuals who do not blow .08 on a breathalyzer are physically influenced by a couple of drinks.

In Maryland, if a driver blows a .08 on a breathalyzer test, then he/she is statutorily presumed to “Driver under the Influence,” and if a driver blows even just a .07, then that driver is statutorily presumed to be guilty of the lesser offense of “Driving While Impaired.” Further, no longer does one have to blow a .02 before a police officer can have reasonable suspicion to believe that a driver is under the influence of alcohol; just an odor of alcohol is enough for a police officer to administer a field sobriety test on you.

Field Sobriety Tests by Montgomery County Police Officers routinely include the eye test of following a light with your eyes (called the “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test), the Walk and Turn test (walking on an invisible line); and the one leg stand for thirty seconds; and reciting the alphabet. According to the police officer at last night’s presentation, contrary to popular belief, Montgomery County Officers do not ask drivers to recite the alphabet backwards.

The laws in Maryland are becoming much stricter against drunk driving; for example a driver convicted of DWI or DUI is entitled to receive Probation before Judgment (“PBJ”) only once every ten years. When someone convicted of a crime (either by pleading guilty or through a trial) receives a “ PBJ” – then the driver receives no “points” against his/her driving record if the crime is a moving offense (i.e. speeding, DUI’s , reckless driving etc) and the guilty conviction is struck from the individual’s criminal record and stays off his/her criminal record if the terms of probation are succesfully completed. A PBJ is certainly a good thing to get !

Now, if the driver is a multiple DUI/DWI offender (and certainly if the driver already received a PBJ within the last ten years), then getting a “PBJ” is unlikely and a sentence in jail is very possible if that driver is convicted again of DUI/DWI. The good news is that in Montgomery County, and in other parts of Maryland, there are many alternative programs to sentencing and the driver’s attorney should certainly be aggressive and knowledgeable enough to know to ask for these alternative programs; such as mandatory attendance at MADD meetings or A/A meetings; ignition interlock device which requires the driver to breathe into the device before the car would start; home confinement; and/or mandatory participation in Drug Court.

Through my twenty-plus years of representing defendants in DWI/DUI cases, I have been very successful in helping many drunk drivers avoiding convictions and jail-time; and just as important if not more important, help those individuals conquer or at least control their never-ending battle with alcoholism by finding and recommending appropriate counselors and programs. Alcoholism is a very real and disabling disease; and not only affects the individual but everyone in that individual’s life.

Submitted by:  Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq.;  301-563-6685; meflynn@a-f.net